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Gentlemen, burn your ties – and free your spirit!

“According to a recent Gallup Poll, the number of men who wear ties every day to work dropped to a record low of 6%, down from 10% in 2002. U.S. Sales have plummeted to $677.7 million in the 12 months ending March 31, from their peak of $1.3 billion in 1995, according to market researcher NPD Group.”

Wall Street Journal (June 10, 2008)

This WSJ story, featured in the Business Daily recently, caught my eye. Mainly because I, too, stopped wearing ties to work some time ago.

The moment of relief came 5 or so years ago, when I left paid employment and became master of my own fate (and dress code). I knew then that I was only ever going to wear a tie when it became entirely unavoidable. And I’ve never looked back. Nor have I bought a new tie since.

When you stop to think about it, whose idea was the neck-tie anyway? Historians appear divided on this – but the tradition probably started with the kerchief in the wars of the early 17th century, and was formalised when the cravat gained popularity 200 years later.

Whatever, the case, I’m damned if I let the traditions of 4 centuries ago constrain my attire and behavior today. What was right in the old Europe is certainly of questionable value in 21st-century Africa. For Kenyans, as with most things we stick rigidly to, the tie is something bequeathed on us by our colonial masters. And we wrapped the things around our own necks with great gusto, as a mark of honour and achievement. Our judges wear wigs, our Speaker wears red robes – and until recently our policemen wore shorts!

In the corporate world, when the change came away from ties and suits, we weren’t even the first ones to do it. I recall that the multinational companies led the way a few years ago in Kenya, with Citibank being the first to drop the formal suit-and-tie requirement. Many others followed suit, and these days you will be hard put to find anyone walking around in neck-gear at East African Breweries, BAT or Unilever. But in many indigenous Kenyan companies, heavy three-piece suits are still the norm!

I have never understood why any working person would benefit from wearing a band of cloth knotted tightly around his neck, especially in the hot sun. Still, to each his own. That is the point about attire: let us all be free to make our own fashion statements. Let us all be free to dress to please, or to dress for ease. Personal choice is the key – not draconian dress codes imposed by the ghosts of long-dead rulers.

And finally, a cautionary note to all you young men about to burn your ties after reading this article: women actually like them! Observation tells me that a lady actually likes a gentlemen to be nicely turned out and to be sporting a stylish tie – uncomfortable or not! So if you’re still in the attraction game, you may have to keep that ridiculous thing around your neck a little longer…

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